Voices of Ascension, April 14, 2021
I heard Voices of Ascension in a concert of “Baroque Favorites” on April 26, 2021 (it had been streamed on April 14). It was mostly video of previous performances with a couple new things thrown in to make it feel more fresh and special. They opened with a performance of Monteverdi’s “Beatus Vir,” done with six vocal soloists and a handful of instruments. Everyone sang and played with a delicious, juicy sense of the style.
The chorus sang an a cappella piece by Henry Purcell, “Thou Knowest, Lord.” Gorgeous, radiant, very high English.
Next, one of the newly recorded pieces, the “Domine Deus” from the Vivaldi *Gloria.* I could tell is was new because everyone but the oboist were wearing masks! The ensemble was soprano Nola Richardson, oboist Diane Lesser, cellist Daire FitzGerald, and artistic director Dennis Keene at the organ. I know the Vivaldi *Gloria* is a piece that’s done by every high school choir on earth, but I’ve never sung it and don't really know it. What a delightful aria, beautifully performed.
Another new performance, baritone Justin Austin singing “Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s *Serse.* I know I’m splitting hairs and we should feel free to do whatever we want with music by dead white dudes, but this aria was written for a mezzo voice. Austin sounded glorious, I especially liked how his voice opened up at the top, but it sounded not quite right.
Another Handel aria, “Waft Her, Angels, to the Skies” from *Jephthe,* sung by tenor Brian Giebler with Adam Cockerham on archlute. Giebler had a lovely voice, it was particularly wonderful hearing it move out into the church. This was a highlight of the concert. Here's Giebler singing "Comfort Ye" from *Messiah*:
What a treat to hear “Sound the Trumpet” sung by two countertenors, Daniel Moody and Clifton Massey. The piece has a bit of diva posturing and competition built into it and they seemed to enjoy that element. Within the bounds of good taste, of course.
The chorus sang the Vivaldi *Magnificat in G Minor.* From the first movement I was impressed with the blend of the chorus and the chorus’s blend with the orchestra - - it was a shimmering carpet of sound. The piece on the whole made me wish I could see a Vivaldi opera, it sure did have plenty of variety and drama. Or maybe I’ll just get a recording of a Vivaldi opera from the New York Public Library.
The next selection was a wish granted, a wish I didn’t even realize I had: Brian Giebler and Adam Cockerham, the tenor and archlutenist from earlier, performed John Dowland’s priceless song “Flow My Tears.” Again, a highlight of the program. Gieber’s performance was wonderfully expressive, an impressive achievement given he was wearing a mask over the lower half of his face.
They ended with Handel’s Coronation Anthem from *Zadok the Priest,* which I think is used in every freaking PBS program ever made about the English royal family. Talk about pomp, I think this piece set the standard. V of A, naturally, nailed it.